Key dates in recent Chinese Jewish history


BEIJING (JTA) — The following are key dates in Chinese Jewish history:

  • 1920 Ohel Rachel Synagogue is established in Shanghai (still standing).
  • 1928-49 The first Lubavitch rabbi in China, Meir Ashkenazi, leads Shanghai’s Congregation Ohel Moshe. Built in 1927, Ohel Moshe is now the site of the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum.
  • 1938-45 20,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria escape to Shanghai.
  • 1939-40 Approximately 1,000 Polish Jews escape to Shanghai, including about 400 teachers and students of the Mir Yeshiva.
  • 1941-45 Japanese occupying powers intern recent Jewish immigrants from Allied countries in Hongkou ghetto for “stateless refugees.”
  • 1949 Communists win civil war; by now most of 24,000 Shanghai Jews and other Jewish populations across the country leave China.
  • 1978 Deng Xiaoping announces China’s “open door policy” with the West.
  • 1980 First community seder in Beijing is led by founders of the liberal Kehillat Beijing minyan.
  • 1992 Israel and China establish diplomatic relations.
  • 1995 Kehillat Beijing begins regular Friday night services in permanent home, Beijing’s Capital Club.
  • Oct 25, 1996 The first community bar mitzvah is held in Beijing for Ari Lee, the son of community founders Elyse Silverberg and Michael Lee.
  • 1998 The “Jewish Shanghai” guided tour begins; it is currently being run by Israeli journalist Dvir Bar-Gal (” title=”Dini’s”>Dini’s
  • May 2008 Israel donates 90 tons of medical supplies, more than $1 million, for Sichuan earthquake relief.
  • Jews in China roll out red carpet for Olympics


    Gold medalists won’t be the only ones climbing podiums in Beijing once the 2008 Olympic Games are under way. Isaac Shapiro will be stepping up to celebrate his bar mitzvah.

    Isaac of Highland Park, Ill., will be called to the Torah at the Chabad House in Beijing on Aug. 16. Isaac and his family are among the hundreds of Jewish tourists, athletes, dignitaries and media expected to converge on the Chinese capital for the 2008 Olympic Games, which begin Aug. 8.

    While most visitors probably don’t even realize there is a local Jewish community in Beijing, the resident Jews of China’s capital are getting ready to welcome anyone who seeks them out.

    The Shapiro family was already planning a trip to Shanghai and then to the Olympics, motivated by Isaac’s love of sports and his older sister, Chloe’s, previous career as a competitive gymnast.

    When Isaac’s bar mitzvah tutor in Chicago, a photographer for the Games, suggested that he have his bar mitzvah in Beijing, it all clicked. Isaac’s father, Sam, said the family didn’t feel the need for a “big American bar mitzvah.”

    Shapiro offered many reasons for the offbeat choice of his son’s bar mitzvah location.

    “It will give Isaac a wonderful sense for the Jewish Diaspora,” he explained. “We also wanted to give our kids a better understanding of China, since it is rapidly becoming one of the most important countries in the world.”

    While the bar mitzvah will make the second Shabbat during the Olympics an especially lively affair (in Chinese, they would say “renao”) at the Chabad House, the local rabbi expects a big crowd the prior Shabbat, as well.

    Rabbi Shimon Freundlich of Chabad Beijing said he expects a packed house in the already squeezed villa living room of the main Chabad House, which weekly is converted into a shul with mechitzah (partition) separating men and women.

    He said he has been contacted by tourists from all over the world, including Australia, Israel, the United States and Europe, and even by some athletes directly. Without naming names, Freundlich did divulge that “there will be athletes at services.”

    “It will be packed wall to wall, no question,” he said, noting that a larger hall could not be found because everything else was booked

    Chabad will offer services three times a day every day during the Games, Freundlich said, at both the main Chabad house and at a central business district location.

    The main Chabad house will also display a special Sino-Judaic exhibit of artifacts belonging to Jews around China in the last 200 years, including books, photographs and religious items like a Chanukiah from Shanghai.

    While the Chabad community will be bustling, all signs indicate that the egalitarian, lay-led Kehillat Beijing minyan will have its share of visitors. Almost one-fifth of the total 18,000 hits on the Kehillat Web site,

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